Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 9. The column this week is Bishop Cunningham’s Lenten Letter to all the faithful.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
Each year, as Lent approaches, well-intentioned Christian people ask themselves: “What should I do for Lent?” As thought provoking as this question and this custom might be, there is a more important question. “What can Lent do for me?” The graces of Lent are primarily God’s doing. Our part is to open ourselves to the graces God offers us.
During this time, the Church invites us once more to a sincere renewal of our life in light of the teachings of the Gospel. St. Matthew, in the Gospel proclaimed on Ash Wednesday, suggests three well-known practices that set the tone for Lent and invite our participation: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
This entire Lenten season should be a time of closer attention to prayer, including active participation at Sunday Mass. Daily prayer — conversation with God — should be recollected and reflective. Specific intentions help us focus our prayer. In addition to your own personal intentions, I invite you to pray for all in the Church: those who are preparing for baptism and entrance into the Church at Easter; the return of those who have been alienated from the Church; the strengthening of family life; renewed appreciation for the beauty of Christian marriage; an increase of vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and consecrated life; children and young people; the aged and home bound; the spiritual and temporal welfare of our families; the forgiveness of personal sins; victims of abuse and improved economic conditions for all. By more intense prayer, we will be able to celebrate Easter with minds and hearts renewed.
Prayer takes on additional meaning when we join it to the age-old practice of fasting. This year, I ask all in the Church of Syracuse to observe carefully the obligatory days of fasting, meaning only one full meal, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstinence, obliging us to eat no meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. These are the basics for everyone who has reached the required age. I encourage you to observe these traditional practices.
All adults, from the completion of their 18th year to the beginning of their 60th year, are expected to fast. All who have completed their 14th year are bound by abstinence. Let us build on the abstinence the Church commands on the Fridays of Lent and make them special penitential days of renewal. Fasting and abstinence open our hearts to God and our hands to the poor.
During Lent, the Church reminds us to practice almsgiving which is the capacity to share. “The practice of almsgiving is a reminder of God’s primacy and turns our attention towards others, so that we may rediscover how good our Father is, and receive his mercy” (Letter for Lent-2011, Benedict XVI). Our HOPE Appeal is one of many opportunities we all have to practice almsgiving. Your gift helps others who are in need.
On the Sundays of Lent, recapture the spirit of the Lord’s Day. Help your families develop spiritually by attending Mass together, enjoying Sunday dinner and spending time in each other’s company; perhaps visit elderly and ill relatives and friends; take a few moments to send a letter or card to brighten another’s day. Make Sunday truly a restful time and strengthen family life through the simple joys the Lord give us.
During the course of this Lent, avail yourself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture in our communion with Him. At the same time, it damages our communion with one another. Conversion, a primary characteristic of Lent, entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. This forgiveness and reconciliation are accomplished by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (cf. CCC #1440).
By these traditional practices, by the Masses we attend and our prayer, the things we give up and the things we give away, we come to know, love and serve God better.
Lent is about what God does for us, the graces He give us that deepen our relationship with Him. It is also a time for others, since a growing relationship with God always leads to greater concern for our brothers and sisters. When we have finished with our “doing something for Lent,” we will discover at Easter that the Lord of Lent has done even more for us.
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham Bishop of Syracuse